Savannahrama

Boats on Tybee (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

It’s not that I’m following Josh around the South, but after an uneventful, rainy graduation, I drove down to Savannah to spend a week with some friends (Josh included) on the sunny coast. Though uncharacteristically rainy (a graduation curse?), Savannah remains one of my favorite cities to visit.

I love the hospitality of the South, and the role food plays in welcoming people. Everywhere I went, it was, Hi, nice to see you again or Hi, nice to meet you, can I get you something to eat? Fresh fruit, white wine, pecan shortbread cookies first – and if a meal followed, it was always more than we could possibly eat.

I was there for the meal Josh described at the end of his post. Simultaneously crunchy and moist fried chicken, tangy okra stewed with tomatoes and corn over rice, firm yet buttery field peas, all finished off with a butter-flecked biscuit so light that wildflower honey just disappeared inside it. I may not be doing any research, but it seemed to me that despite the peach cobbler and ice cream for dessert, the most Southern part of the meal was the gossip bantered over the lunch table.

Apparently, so and so, who’s very wealthy and over such and such an age, is being courted by so and so who just met her two weeks ago, and so and so’s children are having so and so sign some papers. And so and so, who owns such and such, just sold this and that to what’s his name. Bless his heart.

Grill at the end of the world (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Savannah is definitely a foodie city, but it is a strange one. You can find everything from infused balsamics and olive oils from Italy to mass marketed celebrities like Paula Deen and the Girl Scouts (think cookies). And everyone has an opinion on what’s real Southern cooking. » Continue reading this post…

If On a Summer’s Day, I’ll be Traveling (a post by Josh)

This summer I take off. I take off from school by not studying until I can’t read anymore.

But I don’t take off from researching. I am taking off to drive, run, and bike around most of the Southern States to look deeper into how food can shape, affect, or even define a culture. I believe that the foods we eat really do shape how we interact with our surroundings more than we think they do. So I’ll be checking out three different regions in the south: Low-Country (Georgia and South Carolina), the Bayou (Coastal Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana), and inland a bit with Southern Appalachia (Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia).

How, per se, am I going to do this? Well, that’s part of the beauty of it all – I’m going to eat and talk with as many people who want to eat and talk about the South. I am going to set up meetings with people, and also just going to restaurants and talking with whoever will talk.

Right now, I’m sitting in Savannah thinking about a few people that I’ve spoken with (declaring their way is the Southern way) and thinking about what I soon will see, taste and hear. Over the next few days I plan on going to a Restaurant here in town called Mrs. Wilke’s Boarding House, maybe catching up with a Savannah Born Native or two and then off to Sapelo Island.

But so far, it has been great. Only a week in, and I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned that most of the foods that are considered “Southern” were never a part of many people’s lives two generations ago. I also learned that most of the food in the South was brought from African or Spanish or Native American traditions. I’ve learned that the biggest meal was generally eaten in the middle of the day. » Continue reading this post…

The Mother of Invention

Greens, eggs, feta (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As my college career draws to a close, I find myself running into one problem more consistently than any other. I have no food. The budget is low, time is tight, and the tamarind paste to usefulness ratio is completely out of whack.

There have been some successes in my quest to empty the pantry, but there have also been some definite mistakes. Pasta, cottage cheese, red pepper flakes. Not so good. Lasagna with curry sauce. Not so good. Today, however, I came up with one of my greatest wins. Steamed greens topped with a fried egg and crumbled feta cheese.

Last Saturday was the opening of the Farmer’s Market in Davidson. I love the market, because it’s the best place to buy produce in this area. The meats and some of the cheeses are a little expensive (though delicious), but you can’t beat a big bag of mixed greens for $2. I found a new vendor at the market selling some of the best feta I’ve had – crumbly, yet thick and salty with a finishing bite of brine. In addition to the greens and feta, I bought baby cabbage, freshly picked strawberries, kohlrabi, arugula, tomatoes, and a basil plant. A good day.

My Farmers Market purchases have been seeing me through the past week. One day I had toasted flatbread with tomatoes, basil, and feta. On another, boiled kohlrabi tossed with butter, rice wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. But today’s invention has definitely been the best.

I’d never cooked greens before this batch – partly because I’d never eaten greens before coming to school in the south. I decided to try a variation on steaming, which involved sticking wet leaves into a skillet with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then covering the skillet with another skillet. » Continue reading this post…

A Fixed-Price Tapas Affair. For Three. (a post by Josh)

I think I’ve become predictable. Every birthday, holiday or Sunday (for that matter) my gift will always relate to food. It could be a cook book from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse, NY or Olive Oil (freshly pressed in the heart of Tuscany) or even a Simply Carrot Cake for Brenda. No matter what though, I always give food. My most recent, and dare I say “innovative,” gift was a cooking class gift certificate for an upscale restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. And not only for my friend, but for myself as well.

And I lucked out. Because not only was it a cooking class in a classy restaurant, but that day the menu was Tapas. That may not sound so “lucky”, but these were not your ordinary get-these-ingredients-in-your-local-store type of Tapas, but more of the I’m-in-a-fancy-restaurant-spending-far-too-much-money Tapas. But it wasn’t too much money, since the price was fixed. I’d call that luck.

We ended up showing up a little late only to find our way to the back of the show floor. This may sound unfortunate, but really we just got a lot more pity attention. “Oh, hi. In the back, yes. Can you see? Would you like me to do that again?” – “Do you need more wine?” – “Did you get enough food – why not take the extras.” Immediately following, the waiters would flock around us, dashing hands and foods in front of us while bottles tips their bottom upwards to empty more wine into our glasses. By the time the waiters left, we didn’t have Tapas, but a full serving. And this happened six times. All for a fixed price.

After we got our attention served to us, the chef started his interactive lecture about scallops, salt roasted prawns, pineapple empanadas, lettuce puree and risotto. He stood behind a moveable kitchen equipped with more than your average kitchen: five separate burners, two refrigerators, a blender, two food processors, three ovens, two sinks and more fresh vegetables than three families should be able to afford. » Continue reading this post…

Why You Could, But Might Not Want To, Subsist on Pine Trees

Into the woods (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

“There go the toxins,” says Mark, gleefully pouring the first batch of boiled water out of a pot of pokeweed. That’s a reassuring comment considering pokeweed is a poisonous plant whose litany of effects include severe stomach cramping, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, slow and difficult breathing, weakness, spasms, severe convulsions, and death. Delicious.

The snack of boiled pokeweed is the culmination of a wild foods workshop, where we’ve spent the last five hours learning about the medicinal qualities of dogwood leaves, English plantain, and mullein, among others. Although I have been momentarily tempted to wander through the woods eating leaves and cutting bark from every tree I passed, the lessons, peppered with casual references to plants that will make you convulse for hours if you happen to nibble, makes me think twice. “Oh yeah, you might not want to eat that.”

Dogwood flower (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The high incidence of edible plants having a poisonous look-alike make foraging something you should only do if you’re absolutely certain about the plant you’re about to eat. Mark, our instructor, tells us one story of a woman leading an edible foods workshop who accidentally fed her class a plant that burns human tissue instead of a very similar looking plant that tastes a little like cabbage. Of course, that reassured us for having signed up for the class.

The plant world is an absolutely fascinating and relatively untapped realm – untapped, at least, by American society. Mark showed us countless plants, such as jewel weed, a natural cortisone producer, which are far more potent than their man-made, pill counterparts. Dogwood leaves, for example, will cure a migraine in an hour. A tea made from the leaves of English plantain lowers blood pressure. Mullein, boiled in water and inhaled, relieves allergies. I could go on.

Dogwood blossoms (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mark brings in the trunk of a youngish pine tree, “sacrificed” (I believe he used the phrase, “and then I talked to the tree” when describing the ritual) for yesterday’s class and now being used for ours.

» Continue reading this post…

I’ll Have the Meal in a Pint, Cheers (a post by Josh)

The myth is true. It is no longer a myth, but a fact, truth, honesty. The myth that I’m talking about is “the closer you get to Dublin, the better the Guinness.” I never made it to the factory itself, which I’m sure was “well worth it” but I did make to the “smallest pub in the world” in the heart of Dublin to enjoy a hearty pint.

It has really been these past few rainy days that have gotten me to thinking about that small pub. Because, during these grayed afternoons, all I’ve pined for is a cozy place to sit with friends and to enjoy a drink. Not coffee, but a pint of Guinness. This may be contradictory to my personality, but hear me out on this one.

By the time I made it Dublin, I had been living out of my backpack for three weeks in the dead of European Winter. I had had an amazing time, but to make it to Dublin – my last city of the trip – and to my dear friend, was so relieving. I had seen a lot, and I’m sure a lot of it will come up in this blog, since my experiences were shaped so heavily by food. But I got to Dublin, saw nothing but clouds and couldn’t get enough.

My friend, Bex, as a good tour guide, tried so hard to show me around, but soon became distracted by her insatiable desire for a good pub lunch. It was 2pm. We had left her apartment at 1pm.

It turned out to be a good plan of action to start looking, since we didn’t end up sitting down until about 3:30pm. First, we had to meet up with her friends who were visiting for the weekend. After some introductions, “Hiya, yeah, this is my mate from the States,” “Yeah, hi. » Continue reading this post…

Nothing is Sacred

Ham croquettes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

As I was packing up to leave home after a relaxing Easter break, I realized there was nothing left in the house to eat.

By nothing, I mean, there was lots of leftover ham.

Hungry, and inspired by an almost hidden recipe in Gourmet, I decided to give in and eat ham again, but this time as miniature ham croquettes. Only a little bit daunted by the recipe’s injunction to “deep fry” the croquettes in a stomach-churning amount of vegetable oil, I dutifully followed the recipe, mashing white rice, ham, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and egg together into sticky balls and rolling them in bread crumbs. Maybe I didn’t let the rice cool long enough, or maybe my egg just wasn’t enough like cement, but my croquettes looked more like misshapen footballs than the cute, symmetrical spheres in the magazine’s pages. Armed with the longest spoon I could find, I plopped those tentative blobs into the hot oil and hoped they wouldn’t disintegrate too much. And then, as I noticed the thick smoke billowing through the kitchen, I mercilessly abandoned them as I frantically opened all the windows and doors within a fifteen foot radius.

Miraculously, the croquettes were only mostly burnt.

The good deed done, the leftover ham used up, I took my benighted croquettes to the table and took a bite.

Bland. Bland, bland, bland.

Why, you may ask, am I telling you this? Let me tell you.

I am telling you this because it teaches some valuable lessons about cooking. One, that not everything you make will be good. Two, that some things will be bad. And three, that the recipe is never sacred.

Taste copiously while you cook to make sure that it’ll turn out all right, and if it doesn’t taste good, add something new, like horseradish or cumin or caraway seeds. » Continue reading this post…